This is a follow up to our five posts on “believing” in John’s gospel. What else can we learn? How, for instance, do strong thematic strands that accompany “believing”—such as love, grace, light, life, truth, glory, and more—fit together? This question, never fully answered, invites readers to keep reading reflectively.
Seeing Jesus as divine is part of believing. In John 1:49 Nathaniel believed in Jesus as “the Son of God” and “King of Israel.” And later, at the end of the gospel, Thomas called Jesus, “My Lord and my God!” [20:28-29]. Jesus affirmed this response as he told Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Triune communion is at the heart of this blessing. Philip learned this when he asked Jesus to see the Father in John 14:9-10. “Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?”
Consider the range of responses to Jesus. In John 2:23 many people believed Jesus was a miracle-worker from God—a reprise of the ancient prophets. In John 3 Nicodemus, a Jewish Pharisee, represented this group. He saw Jesus as a miracle worker and a teacher. Yet in John 4 a Samaritan woman from Sychar recognized him as the Messiah. And local Samaritans concluded, “this is indeed, the Savior of the world” [4:42]. But in John 5 Jesus, again with the Jews, was rejected by temple leaders. In John 9 he healed a blind man on the Sabbath and was called a sinner. The healed man, by contrast, worshiped Jesus. In John 11 Martha believed Jesus was able to heal her brother, but after Lazarus died she assumed nothing could be done for him. She was wrong.
Jesus confused his audiences. He displayed qualities the crowds expected from a Messiah, but his platform was all wrong. He was a companion to Galilee fishermen, tax collectors, and other rogues. And not the theological gentry of Jerusalem. In his debate with Temple authorities in chapter five he declared his equality with God while breaking known Sabbath restrictions.
This latter debate with Temple leaders in John 5 offers a key insight. Jesus affirmed not just his equality with God as his Father, but he also claimed an intimacy with God: “For the Father loves the Son” [v.20]. By the end of their exchange Jesus reversed and restated his affective claim as a punchline: “But I know that you do not have the love of God within you” [v.42]. They refused to believe in Jesus, despite Jesus making his case that all Moses promised in the Pentateuch about the coming Lord and ruler was occurring right in front of them!
The issue was heart-based. Love shapes every person’s life. This problem was reiterated with the same crowd of religious opponents in John 12:42-43. “Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.”
In the narrative flow of John’s gospel, Christ’s prayer of chapter 17 is a crescendo. Again, we see the primacy of love in what Jesus offers his followers in every age. Knowing both Father and Son (in v.3) is key: “Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me” [vs.11-12].
This was not a loose bond, but the Triune unity of unending love: “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them” [vs.24-26].
Saving faith, then, is a soul’s engagement with God’s proffered love, coming from the Father who “so loved the world” in John 3:16 that he sent his beloved Son to die as the Lamb of God who takes away human sin—recalling John 1:29. A believer is awake to this gift.
An obstacle to this is misdirected love, exposed in John 3:19—“the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.” And God’s solution is a more attractive alternative: “everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life” [6:40]. Nothing and no one, in other words, is more compelling than Jesus. But a person needs to see him in this divine light to receive him. As did the Samaritan woman, the man-born-blind, and Thomas after the resurrection. Believing comes as the eyes of our hearts are opened to see Jesus as he really exists.
Let’s end with this. If any reader still doesn’t see Jesus and believe in him in these terms, let me suggest a prayer: “Lord, please open my heart and show me your face. I’m not sure I’ve ever truly loved you.” And then enjoy reading John’s gospel in a new light.